My local denominational leaders have come to a statistical realization that the most effective way to reach the non-Christian is to plant new churches. They support this claim with the following statistics taken from FTS.
- Churches under 3 years old have a member to conversion ratio of 3:1 = 3 members to 1 convert.
- Churches under 3-7 years old have a member to conversion ratio of 7:1 = 7 members to 1 convert.
- Churches Over 10 years old have a member to conversion ratio of 87:1 = 87 members to 1 convert.
I wonder if the term convert equals a functioning disciple in the church, a church member or a “decision for Christ?” Given that our denomination has lots of “old churches” it appears that the new emphasis will hopefully inject new life into the movement and reach more people.
All of the men i spoke with have a great passion to reach the lost. (There were no female planters – a shame!) Yet no one questioned why older churches are so ineffective on average. Instead we spent the next two days walking through a program to “guarantee a successful” church launch. The quick outline goes like this.
- Start 5-8 home groups to train your core members for a year.
- Raise 223,000 dollars to cover building rental, staffing, and purchase what you need.
- Focus on children because if the children are happy, the parent(s) will return.
- Advertise, advertise and do it some more.
- Plan on a launch event of between 200-300 people.
- Be a “big church” from the start.
I call this type of emphasis on “Bigger is Better” the Pamela Anderson Syndrome.
Pamela Anderson, a beautiful woman who has achieved much success and fame by pandering to the notion that sex sells. In the entertainment industry, maintaining the image of an idealized woman is to guarantee oneself fame, fortune and future work. Ironically, the progress of her career can almost be tracked by the size of her bust line.
When her career slumped, Pamela made herself look like an even bigger star and sex symbol than her competition. The competition for attention lead her to augmented her breast size and increase her image in a highly consumerist industry. The motto “The Bigger, The better” seems to apply here.
In the church planting intensive we never looked at the philosophical implications behind the methodology being suggested. They presented the matherial as the best way to plant a church. But is it? We turn out churches that remind me of children on steroids. Physically they look well developed and mature but in reality they are still children.
I do not deny that this approach still works in major parts of the American cultural environment. A highly touted church my denomination started seven months ago is now running two services and has about 275 - 310 people. Their children’s area teems with video game stations, games and activities to captivate the children. It works to attract families but at what cost?
I have serious reservations about short-circuiting the early growth stages of a community to look big and attract a crowd. As our culture changes, this mode of church has begun to fall flat and eventually will become ineffective. The rise of the emergent church only demonstrates this trend.
If i wanted to build a church according to the yardstick of building, bodies, and budget i’d plant a Pamela Anderson syndrome church. In an emerging context, the desire to return to our calling and make disciples of the nations becomes apparent. When we consider church planting from the disciple making perspective, I become dissatisfied with the bigger is better approach to Christian community and churches.
Why are “old churches” ineffective at reaching the lost? Best Guess, they are effective at building a congregation while remaining ineffective at making disciples. “New churches” have energy, drive, and can attract a crowd. But if they do not emphasize disciple making they are fated to become like the ineffective churches they left behind.
As I look at cultivating a community I cannot escape the imperative of making Disciples of Christ. How fast the community grows become irrelevant compared to the disciples we produce. Best of all this does not require a new church. We can re:vision existing churches toward the discipleship imperative. It remains a slow process but one that is necessary if a church seeks to sustain genuine growth and continue to be effective.
BTW: I do not like the term Non-Christian, Church Plant, nor discipleship as they all have too much cultural baggage attached to them. Any suggested replacement language?